Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger argued in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that college football should be banned outright, asserting that it has nothing to do with college athletics.
Perusing the piece, it’s not shocking that it took less than four paragraphs to mention Nick Saban’s salary. Saban is an easy villain for righteously indignant journalists; he’s wildly successful, makes a lot of money at something he’s good at, and doesn’t court media favor.
Saban does, however, graduate players. In the most recent NCAA report on athletic graduation rates, Alabama did well, graduating 70 percent of its football players. Overall, the single-year graduation rate was 82 percent for Alabama student athletes who began college in the fall of 2004 and were given six years to finish was equal to the national average.
The simple fact is, numerous young men who otherwise would have no chance at a university education, have been able to pursue a career in athletics through participating in Alabama football. These young men have been given discipline and mentoring by one of the best in the business, and had the opportunity for the “positive self-gratification” they would not have found outside of higher education.
Bissinger states rightly that education costs are rising into the stratosphere, and that the drive to compete in terms of athletic facilities is getting out of hand in some cases. Teams that have no business doing so are building football cathedrals with unsold luxury boxes, and dumping money into teams that cannot sell enough tickets to cover their costs.
In the case of Alabama football, the sport makes such a profit that its revenues help fund the athletics pursuits of less successful programs. And anyone within a five-mile radius of Bryant-Denny stadium on game day can attest to the impact of Crimson Tide football on the Tuscaloosa economy.
It can be argued that higher education is a victim of the same financial “bubble” that the Internet and housing have been through in the past decades. Student loan funding and government oversight have created an illusory inflation in costs, and universities are raising tuition to unsustainable levels. Meanwhile, Women’s Studies degrees and courses in queer musicology create students wholly unprepared to actually contribute to the economy.
Football is an easy target, and Bissinger offers no alternative solutions to his controversial (and hit-generating) suggestion. This certainly isn’t the first time – nor will it be the last –that the intelligensia seek to blame college athletics for academia’s failures. To do so would require looking holistically at the problem, instead of just blaming the jocks for one’s own inability to turn a degree in Puppetry into a lucrative career.